| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
How the system worked
The traditional feudal system was most common in Europe from the 9th to the 14th century CE. Kings of the day were by-and-large, warriors who had stolen land from other warriors. To maintain the land, they would provide a fief to any warrior willing to support the king in his on-going battles. Those lands were further broken down into knighthoods, each knight being duty bound to the king. In some areas of Europe, the land was plotted and leased for individual serf homes, though the leases were generally so exorbitant that no serf would ever be free of his indebtedness to the landowner. Serfs were never considered to "own" the land. The last vestiges of feudalism in western Europe were thankfully swept away by reforms instituted in the wake of the French Revolution.
Non-European use of term
Pre-modern Japan is often analogized as a "feudal society," to show some of the similarities with the European Middle Ages, but the correlation is illustrative at best and fails to really describe what the true situation in Japan was.
Scholars have said that Ancient Egypt also had a feudal-like system in society, though the true obligation was one of religious duty as the King in any Egyptian society was bound to the people through his role as "God" of the people.
While feudalism faded out of use in Europe during the late middle-ages, similar systems in other countries survived much later. The Russian emancipation of the serfs took place in 1861, and Japan's hierarchy of farmers, samurai and daimyo (lords) under the ruling Shogun was abolished after the Meiji Restoration of 1867.
Individuals in mainland China generally adopt the Marxist use of the term and refer to all Chinese history pre-communism as "feudalism," even though European-style feudalism was largely over in China by the Qin dynasty, which began ca. 221 BCE.